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Nationals hold on to take down Phillies, magic number down to 3

Nationals hold on to take down Phillies, magic number down to 3

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Michael A. Taylor raced for an inside-the-park grand slam when center fielder Odubel Herrera misplayed his line drive, and the Washington Nationals moved closer to a second straight NL East title with an 11-10 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night.

Herrera misread Taylor's hit off Jake Thompson (1-2) in the third inning, taking a few steps in before leaping as the ball soared over his head. Herrera chased the rolling ball down on the warning track and threw to the infield, but shortstop J.P. Crawford missed up the third-base line with his relay, allowing Taylor to slide home safely.

It was the first-inside-the-park grand slam in the majors since Philadelphia's Aaron Altherr on Sept. 25, 2015, at Washington.

Taylor's homer was the second inside-the-park grand slam in Montreal Expos/Nationals history. Bombo Rivera had one as an Expo on June 26, 1976, a home run that coincidentally scored current Phillies manager Pete Mackanin from second.

Taylor set a career high with five RBIs and matched a personal best with four hits. Trea Turner homered and drove in three, and Max Scherzer (14-5) allowed four runs over six innings.

Washington has won five straight and reduced its magic number for winning the division to three.

Maikel Franco's three-run homer off Shawn Kelley in the ninth pulled the Phillies within a run, but Sean Doolittle struck out all three hitters he faced for his 17th save in 17 tries with Washington.

Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins also homered for Philadelphia, which has lost 21 of its last 27 games against Washington.

Scherzer struggled in the first inning, issuing back-to-back walks to Herrera and Hoskins and before Williams belted an 0-1 offering to right-center. But almost immediately, the Nationals chipped away at the deficit.

Ryan Zimmerman had an RBI single in the first and Turner added one in the second, and the Nationals loaded the bases on two walks and an error on a fielder's choice to set up Taylor's slam.

Scherzer allowed four runs for just the fourth time in 27 starts, but he struck out seven and improved to 6-0 over his last 13 outings.

Herrera's infield single in the seventh extended his hitting streak to 21 games, the longest in the majors this season.

Thompson allowed seven runs (five earned), seven hits and two walks in five innings.

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When will Bryce Harper return to the Nationals' lineup?

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USA TODAY Sports

When will Bryce Harper return to the Nationals' lineup?

Bryce Harper hasn't seen the baseball diamond since August 12 and if you follow him on social media, you know the wait is nearly killing him.

In the past week however, he has been making positive steps in his road to recovery.

Before Thursday's game against the Braves, Harper was seen running foul pole to foul pole at Nats Park.

RELATED: NAT'S DANIEL MURPHY AND SON ATTEND CAPS PRACTICE

And prior to Sunday's game against the Dodgers, Harper took batting practice.

Then, on Tuesday, Harper batted in a simulated game prior to the team's road game against the Braves. He even ran around the bases to test out his injured knee.

These are all great signs, but when can we really expect him to return?

There have been rumors that it could be as soon as this week, so the Sports Junkies took matters into their own hands and ask general manager Mike Rizzo about it on their show Wednesday morning.

"Bryce had a very productive day yesterday, a very busy day," Rizzo said.

"He had a lot of work to put in yesterday. Harp came out looking good. The anchor leg, his left leg, which is Harp's back leg, his power leg, came through it fine. We'll see how he feels today, which will be very very important and see where we take it from there. He ran bases yesterday which was good and threw from the outfield, so he's slowly and cautiously getting back into a routine. Depending on how he progresses, we'll see where we take it from there. Hopefully, he can get a couple of games of live at bat under his belt before we have that four day break before the playoffs start."

RELATED: NATS FIRST MLB TEAM TO CLINCH PLAYOFF SPOT

So what exactly is Harper doing in a "simulated game?"

"It was just a hitting game for him. We brought up two minor league pitchers for him to see live stuff. What he and Steven Drew hitting, they probably had a total of about 10 or so at bats. 10 or 12 real at bats where four balls, three strikes type of thing, you hit a base hit you're out, that type of thing."

"You could do whatever you want in those games. So, we simulated with men on base, without men on base. The hitter did not know what the pitcher was going to throw and that was kind of the key to it, where you're recognizing spins and velocity and that type of thing. It's well beyond the batting practice that he's been getting recently. We'll continue to do this. We'll filter in some minor league pitchers as we go along and he'll get some time in that way until he can participating in game activities which we hope is sooner rather than later."

The magic date for Bryce Harper and the Nats is Friday, Oct. 6th when the National League Division series start and so does the Nats World Series run.

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Max Scherzer bounces back from last week's rough start against Atlanta

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USA Today Sports

Max Scherzer bounces back from last week's rough start against Atlanta

ATLANTA -- Max Scherzer allowed five hits in seven innings, and the Washington Nationals tuned up for the playoffs with a 4-2 victory over Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night.

Scherzer (15-6) bounced back from his worst start of the season, also against the Braves last week, when he walked six and was roughed up for seven runs in an 8-2 loss.

This time, Scherzer struck out seven and walked only one while throwing 83 of 112 pitches for strikes.

Ryan Madson pitched around trouble in the eighth and Sean Doolittle finished with a perfect for his 22nd save, his 19th in as many chances since the Nationals acquired him from Oakland on July 16.

Ryan Zimmerman had three hits and drove in a pair of runs for the NL East champion Nationals.

Rookie left-hander Luiz Gohara (1-2) surrendered four runs and 11 hits in 6 1/3 innings.

Washington took a 2-0 lead in the third, sparked by Matt Wieters' leadoff double. Trea Turner and Zimmerman had run-scoring singles..

Scherzer retired the first 11 Atlanta hitters before Freddie Freeman reached on a bloop single to right in the fourth. Kurt Suzuki dumped a 3-2 pitch in front of left fielder Howie Kendrick to bring home Atlanta's first run.

Zimmerman added another RBI single in the fifth and Washington finished Gohara in the seventh. Rendon ripped a double just inside the third-base bag to drive in Turner.

Dansby Swanson's fifth-inning double provided Atlanta's other run.

TRAINING ROOM

Nationals: 2B Daniel Murphy was scratched from the lineup shortly before the first pitch because of hamstring tightness. He was replaced by Wilmer Difo.

Braves: CF Ender Inciarte left after the fourth inning with a sore left thumb. It's been a lingering problem for the speedy outfielder, who was listed as day to day. Lane Adams moved from left field to center after Inciarte departedt, while Jace Peterson took over leadoff spot in the order.

UP NEXT

Nationals: LH Gio Gonzalez (14-7) gets the nod in the second game of the series Wednesday night. He is 0-2 with a 6.48 ERA in three starts against Atlanta this season, which includes his most recent appearance last week in Washington when he surrendered seven hits and five runs in five innings of an 8-0 loss.

Braves: RH Lucas Sims (2-5) will fill in for Mike Foltynewicz, who was forced to skip his scheduled start after lacerating his right middle finger in his last appearance. Sims has made his last four relief appearances since starting the first seven games of his big league career.